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Order temporarily blocks appointed judges in mostly Black city and county in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge Friday temporarily blocked the appointment of four state court judges in the majority-Black county that is home to Mississippi's capital city — appointments that drew protests from local residents who said white state officials were stomping on civil rights.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate issued the temporary restraining order at the request of the NAACP, and he set a May 22 hearing to consider extending the order.

The national civil rights organization, its Mississippi chapter and its local chapter in Jackson filed a federal lawsuit April 21, hours after Gov. Tate Reeves signed laws to expand state policing in the capital city of Jackson, establish a court with an appointed judge and authorize four appointed judges to work alongside the four elected circuit court judges in Hinds County.

Members of the majority-white and Republican-led Legislature who pushed for the changes said they were trying to curb crime in Jackson. Local residents protested that state officials were usurping power in Jackson and Hinds County, which are majority-Black and governed by Democrats.

Under one of the laws, Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph was supposed to appoint four circuit judges by this week to serve until the end of 2026 — most of the current four-year term.

“Thanks to an emergency motion we filed last last night, Chief Justice Randolph cannot begin any undemocratic court packing in Jackson until NAACP v. Reeves moves forward,” the national NAACP posted Friday on Twitter. “We are prepared to fight for our freedom.”

Another lawsuit that challenges the new laws is pending in Hinds County Chancery Court. Three Jackson residents who are plaintiffs in that lawsuit testified Wednesday that having appointed rather than elected judges would rob them of equal rights because the state constitution requires the election of most judges.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas was considering a request for a temporary restraining order similar to the one Wingate issued in federal court.